Capitalizing on the public interest aroused by the Canada-Soviet Hockey Series of 1972, Douglas Fisher of Hockey Canada, and Alan Eagleson of the NHL Players' Association, arranged to bring national teams from Europe to compete against Canada and the US in tournaments which would be staged, every 3 or 4 years, in North American arenas. The purpose of the series was to bring together the very best teams each country could field, an impossibility in the Olympic Games and the World Championships.

Each series has produced sterling hockey and thrilling finals. In the first tournament, in 1976, Canada defeated Czechoslovakia in the final on a dramatic goal by Daryl Sittler. The Soviets, who dominated international hockey in the early 1980s, defeated Canada in the final of the second tournament in 1981. The highlight of the 1984 series was Canada's dramatic 3-2 victory over the Soviets in a semifinal match. Mike Bossy scored the winning goal 12 minutes into overtime. Canada went on to defeat Sweden in the final.

The 1987 tournament brought Canada and the Soviets together in a thrilling 3-game playoff. The Soviets won the first game in overtime 6-5. Canada won the second game, also in overtime, and also by 6-5. After falling behind 0-3, in the early stages of the final game, Canada came back to win, again 6-5, when Mario Lemieux scored the deciding goal at 18.34 of the third period.

The breakup of the Soviet Union weakened the quality of team sent for the 1991 tournament. With many of its star players already playing in North America and Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States team could not reach the final. Canada defeated the United States in two straight games to win the tournament.

The Canada Cup was renamed the World Cup of Hockey and held its first tournament under the new name in September 1996. The US national team defeated Canada 5-2 on September 14 to win the final 3 games to 2. The tournament was held again in 2004, with Canada beating Finland 3-2 in the final match to reclaim the title.